Interview with Anne Pasquier
By Suzanne Corriveau and Johanne Jutras, Committee members
On October 12, we met with Anne Pasquier, professor in the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies and author of L’Évangile selon Marie: texte établi et présenté par Anne Pasquier. The text is published by Presses de l’Université Laval and in Écrits gnostiques (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Éditions Gallimard, 2007). First published in 1983, the edition was revised and expanded in 2007, when the author added a chapter on the character of Mary Magdalene. We spoke to her about it.
What is L’Évangile selon Marie (EvMar)?
First of all, Mary is not the mother of Jesus. Marie refers to Mary Magdalene. Her Gospel is an ancient apocryphal text written in Coptic on papyrus. It is the first treatise on the Berlin papyrus 8502 acquired in Cairo by C. Reinhart. Since 1896, this manuscript has been kept in the Department of Egyptology at the Berlin State Museums. It is thought to have been copied in the 5th century AD, and possibly even in the early 5th century. Coptic was a translation language for Gnostic writings originally written in Greek. The original text could date from the second century AD. Moreover, the manuscript is not complete, as pages 1 to 6 and 11 to 14 are missing. Nevertheless, like many other Gnostic writings, the Gospel according to Mary belongs to the tradition of the apparitions of the risen Savior.
Where does your interest in Mary Magdalene come from?
By analyzing the language of ancient texts, which are highly poetic and symbolic, I discovered an important woman who has influenced the arts since the beginning of Christianity, as she and Jesus are represented as a couple, whether in painting, sculpture, or literature. What’s more, Mary Magdalene is present in all four of the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and more specifically in the important moments of Jesus’ life: his death, burial, and resurrection. According to John’s Gospel, she was the first to witness Christ’s resurrection, and he sent her to announce it to the other disciples. The exegete and theologian Hippolytus of Rome calls her the apostle of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene represents the Spirit that all believers united to the Savior by faith can receive, the Savior who, before his departure, had declared that he would dwell within them with the Father: « The Son of Man is within you. Follow him. Those who seek him will find him (Gospel of Mary 8:18-21).
Is it fair to say that Mary Magdalene was a feminist?
I wouldn’t want to be accused of using today’s criteria to apply them to antiquity. Nevertheless, Mary Magdalene is a model woman. A native of Magdala, a village on the western shore of Lake Gennesaret north of Tiberias, Mary Magdalene is a woman freed from her demons by Jesus. She is self-sufficient, as she travels extensively before and after Jesus’ death. Mary Magdalene was probably quite wealthy, since, like other women who followed Jesus, she put her possessions at the disposal of Jesus and his disciples so that they could proclaim the Good News.
In three treatises, the Gospel according to Mary (L’Évangile selon Marie), the Gospel according to Thomas (L’Évangile selon Thomas) and the Pistis Sophia, Peter’s hostility and jealousy towards Mary Magdalene are symbolically recounted. These texts do not, of course, reproduce an actual opposition between Peter and Mary Magdalene, but reflect a historical situation in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Through the characters of Mary Magdalene and Peter, two groups of Christians, or two types of Christianity, clash. This opposition reflects the non-uniform state of Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. By placing Mary Magdalene face to face with Peter, the best-known of the twelve apostles, the community represented in these texts symbolically places itself face to face with the Churches that make Peter their representative, a Peter who perhaps symbolizes a Church in the process of organizing a male ministry and who finds the role of women in prophetic movements embarrassing. This is not the case with women who walk with Jesus in a charismatic spirit.
Can The Gospel According to Mary inspire the spirituality of women today?
Certainly, since it leads us to reflect on Jesus’ death, to make sense of it and to reflect on our spiritual life. Where does our faith come from? Does the world make sense? Do torture and death have a meaning we don’t understand? With Christ now living within her, Mary Magdalene will spread this message, as well as the message that every person carries within them both the masculine and the feminine: « He has made us Man » (Gospel of Mary 9:20), she says. The theme of Man (in Greek Anthropos) serves to express the androgenic unity, the reunion of feminine and masculine, that each person must realize in order to be saved. In the Gospel according to Mary, for example, and in other texts, the symbolism of the union of masculine and feminine is used to evoke salvation. According to Genesis (chapter 1, verses 26-27), man is made in the image and likeness of God, masculine and feminine. This means that, when God reveals Himself through His likeness, He does so under a double aspect. In Christianity, the true image of God is primarily the Son. According to Genesis, he represents the likeness of God, or at least the masculine part. The feminine part is our spiritual humanity. Separated from him, she seeks him and awaits his coming. It is represented by Mary Magdalene, described as his spouse.
As we can see, this is not a Gospel written by Mary Magdalene, but rather one that sees Mary Magdalene as the one who best symbolizes the link with Christ. It is not easy to read, as it is incomplete. However, it is still used in many countries because it promotes a spiritual life that makes us feel alive. L’autre Parole, in Quebec, and the Comité de la Jupe, in France, draw inspiration from it for the liturgy of their celebrations and their ongoing struggles for women’s right to ordination in the Catholic Church.
For over 2,000 years, there has been something profoundly human in the phenomenon of life, death, and resurrection. Jesus revolutionized our way of seeing the human. All these texts speak to me. Whether you’re a believer or not, you must read the Bible and the Gnostic writings. Although they are not historical accounts, they reveal the keys to an enriching spiritual life.